Community Connections part 3

In the winter of 2020, the Covid pandemic was making it hard for people to get together in person. I figured that Zoom meetings could be a worthwhile substitute: People can meet and talk face to face without having to leave home, and “share their screen” with the other (to show everybody the meeting agenda, for instance). So I opened a “Zoom Pro” account and put out a message on Resilient Manitoulin offering to host group Zoom meetings using my account. Some local groups took me up on that.

After the group told me when they wanted to meet, I scheduled the Zoom meeting and emailed the members invitations. These include links which the member can click on at the scheduled time to join the meeting, after downloading the free Zoom app that runs on their computer (or their phone). When the person chairing the meeting joined it, i could then hand over the “host” role to them, and leave the meeting. The group could then continue the meeting until they decided to end it.

I also connected with Mary Yett, a permaculture/gardening expert who lives near Tehkummah (southeastern part of the Island), and we held some free Zoom sessions where she could answer live gardening questions from participants. We sent notices to Resilient Manitoulin for those too.

My Zoom “Pro” account costs $200 a year, but a Zoom Basic account is free and allows you to hold meetings with up to 100 people, although they are limited to 40 minutes. So there are ways to meet with people without leaving home that don’t cost anything. Zoom is not the only one, but it’s the one I’m personally familiar with. All kinds of groups and organizations use it now to hold face-to-face meetings without having to be together in one place.

I’ll wrap up this series after the Six Foot Festival at Debajehmujig Creation Center ends tomorrow. This blog is another example of an inexpensive way to connect with people, and if anybody wants to try it (or be a guest writer here), contact me and i’ll try to help.

Community Connections part 2

Social media such as Facebook give you access to their services for free. How can they afford to do this? By keeping track of every click and every “like,” down to minute details of your online behavior. If you have an account on Facebook, for example, it has a secret profile on you. Its algorithms use this profile to target you with information or advertising that you are likely to like, or respond to in some way.

You may be using the free services of Big Tech to make personal connections with family and friends, or your quilting group, or whatever – no problem there. But the hidden system of algorithms can do a lot of damage to community connections, because they foster the growth of all kinds of social bubbles. Some of these bubble-groups connect people who share a hatred or distrust of other groups. They might be white supremacist or male supremacist or anti-immigrant or anti-government groups, and they include members who get their identity from the exclusion of other groups.

Big Tech systems don’t do this intentionally, but they can’t prevent the rise of hate groups on their platforms either, because they have a vested interest in the targeted advertising which depends on the automatic algorithms that grow these bubbles. Those algorithms can turn online communities into “echo chambers” where people reinforce each other’s distrust of “mainstream media,” or the public health system, or the scientific consensus on climate, and amplify each other’s hatred of others.

These groups are held together not only by shared beliefs (often conspiracy theories), but also by their refusal to connect with outsiders. They don’t trust information or opinions coming from outside the bubble, and where there’s no trust, there’s no genuine connection. This leads to polarization and fragmentation of communities. I’ve written about this before in my online book and blog, drawing on a wide range of sources, so i won’t go on about it here.

Turtle Island, including this Island (M’nidoo), has been colonized by invaders from Europe for over 500 years now, and Indigenous people are well aware of the effect of colonialism on them, up to and including genocide. The settlers who are descendants of those invaders, and of other immigrants like my own ancestors, are slowly becoming aware of that shameful history of colonialism. But we don’t yet see clearly how the Internet has been colonized by Big Tech and its algorithms. The effects of that are more subtle and less visible than the 500-year invasion, but they affect billions of people today. We know that they can be used to misdirect our attention and interfere with democratic elections, and that will continue as long as they are profitable for the owners and their wealthy advertisers. That’s the hidden cost of using the “free” services of Big Tech.

In order to make healthier and deeper connections within and between our communities, we need to decolonize the Internet by the way we use it. That’s not always easy. You can quit social media platforms such as Facebook if you want, and use email instead to make connections with people beyond your local neighbourhood. But it may be harder to avoid Microsoft or Apple or Google. Resilient Manitoulin itself is a Google group, because Google groups are free and convenient and easy to create. Likewise you can put your amateur video online for free using YouTube, which is owned by Google. I did that myself two years ago, trying to connect with Northern Ontario people interested in owning an EV (electric car).

But there are other ways of using the Internet for community connections without depending on Big Tech, and without spending a lot of money. My next post will look into some of those.

Community Connections part 1

On this Thanksgiving Day of 2022, my partner Pam Jackson and I are especially grateful for the connections among people of Manitoulin Island which have evolved since we moved here in 2000.

In 2004 we started hosting “Movies that Matter,” inviting people for a pot luck dinner and movie on our home screen (now called the Honora Bay Free Theatre). These were often documentaries about ecological and/or social issues, followed up with lively conversations among the half dozen or so people who were there. Differences of opinion only made it more lively, because we actually listened to each other and respected our differences.

A much bigger and more ambitious gathering was hosted in 2009 by Justin Tilson, founder of Manitoulin Permaculture, at the Honora Bay ski hill lodge. It was inspired by the Transition town movement and brought together a wide range of people working to transition our society into an ecologically sustainable, carbon-neutral way of living. Justin also launched an e-mail group called Resilient Manitoulin, to help us connect with each other. As an administrator of the group, I’ve had the privilege of welcoming scores of new members over the past 13 years. (And as a blogger, doing what I can to further the Transition.)

As a contact medium, email is no substitute for in-person gatherings where people can converse in real time (body language and all). But that kind of gathering became problematic in 2020 when the Covid pandemic hit, and many real-time conversations moved to phone or Zoom (which I’ll get to in a later post). Besides, email has its own advantages. An email dialogue is not limited to a particular time and place, and a message can be considered and reconsidered before it’s sent to others, who can also take their time responding (or choose to ignore it). Whole conversations can be saved “for the record” and revisited later. And email can be used to give notice of in-person gatherings planned for the future.

Resilient Manitoulin has grown to include over 330 members, who often use it to request or share rides, tools, goods and services – all at no cost beyond that of an Internet connection and the device connected to it. Social media such as Facebook can also be used for this kind of connection, and they too are “free” to access – but this “freedom” has a hidden social cost, which I’ll get to in my next post.

more community resources

Thanks to my friend Hugh Smiley for posting an informative comment on my “Social Transformation” post. I’ve added a couple of links to it, including one to the Bahá’í International Community, an NGO representing the international level of the Bahá’í emphasis on community building. There’s also a Canadian Bahá’í website on building community.

In connection with the point about “tackling the root causes of acceleration and growth — the feedback loops that cause most of today’s ecological and social crises”, i can also recommend the current series of Crazy Town podcasts, which focus on the “hidden drivers” of the rush to consume the planet which is threatening all of us Earthlings.

Social transformation

I’m back to the blog after spending the entire month of March researching, rethinking and revising Chapter 8 of Turning Signs (and welcoming the spring of 2021). The chapter isn’t completely done yet, but in the meantime i want to share this excerpt from Free, Fair, and Alive (pp. 204-205), a book on Commoning by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich (New Society Publishers, 2019):

Geographer Dina Hestad of the University of Oxford has studied what characteristics must be present for actions and strategies to be socially transformative. She has provisionally identified the following criteria:

  • Work towards a vision which reflects the need to live in balance with the carrying capacity of the earth
  • Consider that change in a complex system cannot be controlled due to uncertainty
  • Avoid displacing problems to other locations or times, which could prevent wider system change
  • Tackle the root causes of acceleration and growth — the feedback loops that cause most of today’s ecological and social crises
  • Work towards systems that avoid unchecked imbalances of power and help avoid triggering humans’ (destructive) ancient tribal circuits
  • Promote understanding that humans are part of a much larger whole, and create possibilities for resonance and meaningful, affective relationships between people and nature
  • Develop healthy human agency at individual and collective levels for transforming and co-creating our future
  • Open up new possibilities for acting rather than shrinking our opportunities to act
  • Communicate a compelling and inspiring story of system change that names the problems and identifies commensurate leverage points and resonates with people from all walks of life and across ideologies
  • Promote social cohesion and a sense of togetherness at different levels, which includes trust, a sense of belonging, and a willingness to participate and help
  • Promote critical thinking, generosity of spirit, and openness to learn from diverse ideas and perspectives

Commoning has a rich potential to meet all of these criteria. Of course, implementation is critical! That is to say, strengthening and expanding commoning from within a market/state polity will be really difficult. But it is entirely feasible.

Common sensing

In Peircean terminology, Turning Signs could be described as a hybrid of cenoscopy and synthetic philosophy. Cenoscopy, as opposed to the idioscopic or specialized sciences such as physics and psychology, investigates

phenomena that are perfectly familiar to all mankind. Because these are founded on common observation, Bentham gave them the collective designation Cenoscopy, which I adopt as expressive of my own opinion of the basis on which these sciences, which are otherwise called Philosophy, rest.
— Peirce, MS 601 (c. 1906)

Cenoscopy then ‘embraces all that positive science which rests upon familiar experience and does not search out occult or rare phenomena’; for Peirce this, rather than metaphysics, is the real “first philosophy,” or at least ‘is better entitled (except by usage) to being distinguished as philosophia prima than ontology’ (EP2:372). Synthetic philosophy, on the other hand, ‘has been called philosophia ultima’ because it ‘embraces all that truth which is derivable by collating the results of different special sciences, but which is too broad to be established by any one of them’ (EP2:372).

In other words, the philosophical inquiry reflected in Turning Signs aims at both the primary (or primal?) and the ultimate – the alpha and the omega. This makes it doubly useful in these apocalyptic or transitional times. Actually only the cenoscopic part should be called “inquiry,” or heuretic science as Peirce called it. He placed synthetic philosophy ‘at the head of the Retrospective Sciences’ (EP2:373), i.e. those which find new connections among observations previously made rather than making new observations of their own. But the reliance of cenoscopic inquiry on ‘familiar experience’ does not make it easier to practice, because it requires critical common sense.

The method of cenoscopic research presents a certain difficulty. In commencing it we are confronted with the fact that we already believe a great many things. These beliefs, or at least the more general of them, ought to be reconsidered with deliberation. This implies that it should be conducted according to a deliberate plan adopted only after the severest criticism. Indeed, nothing in cenoscopy should be embraced without criticism. Each criticism should wait to be planned, and each plan should wait for criticism. Clearly, if we are to get on at all, we must put up with imperfect procedure.
— Peirce, EP2:373

This is roughly equivalent to Merleau-Ponty’s observation about phenomenology: ‘The most important lesson of the reduction is the impossibility of a complete reduction.’


In English and many other languages, including Latin and Greek, the same word can be used for a living body or a dead one, even though the difference is crucial in terms of how we relate to it.

On the other hand, several esoteric traditions, including the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Iranian mystics investigated by Corbin (1960), and early Christian texts such as the Gospel of Philip distinguish between two (or more) kinds of ‘body’:

[The master] was conceived from what [is imperishable], through God. The [master rose] from the dead, but [he did not come into being as he] was. Rather, his [body] was [completely] perfect. [It was] of flesh, and this [flesh] was true flesh. [Our flesh] is not true flesh, but only an image of the true.
Gospel of Philip 68 (NHS, 174)

We might compare Philip‘s ‘true flesh’ with Walt Whitman’s ‘real body’:

Was somebody asking to see the soul?
See, your own shape and countenance, persons, substances, beasts, the trees, the running rivers, the rocks and sands.
All hold spiritual joys and afterwards loosen them;
How can the real body ever die and be buried?

Of your real body and any man’s or woman’s real body,
Item for item it will elude the hands of the corpse-cleaners and pass to fitting spheres,
Carrying what has accrued to it from the moment of birth to the moment of death.

Not the types set up by the printer return their impression, the meaning, the main concern,
Any more than a man’s substance and life or a woman’s substance and life return in the body and the soul,
Indifferently before death and after death.

Behold, the body includes and is the meaning, the main concern, and includes and is the soul;
Whoever you are, how superb and how divine is your body, or any part of it!
Starting from Paumanok, §13
For Whitman, the ‘real body’ is the type which, like the type set by the printer, leaves its ‘impression’ on everything it touches. The printed copy of a book is but a token (replica, sinsign) of it; but it must exist in order for the act of meaning to occur. Likewise your soul must be embodied in order to manifest itself, but your living-and-dying body is only a temporary token of your real body.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in The Art of Living (2017), says that ‘we are not limited to our physical body, even while we are alive.’ He lists eight bodies that we all have: the human body, the buddha body, the spiritual practice body, the community body, the body outside the body (which is ‘present in many places in the world’), the continuation body (by which our thoughts, speech and actions continue to influence the world), the cosmic body, and the ultimate body (‘the nature of reality itself, beyond all perceptions, forms, signs, and ideas’). All of these bodies are real in the continuity of their presence: their interbeing is living the time.